Instead of our usual Hampstead/Belsize shopping route, Tom and I walked over the Heath to Highgate and then down Highgate Hill and Holloway Road. We came across The Parsee, unfamiliar to us, but immensely tempting. Having just returned from the subcontine

Instead of our usual Hampstead/Belsize shopping route, Tom and I walked over the Heath to Highgate and then down Highgate Hill and Holloway Road. We came across The Parsee, unfamiliar to us, but immensely tempting. Having just returned from the subcontinent, we are still in "been-to" mode and earmarked the restaurant for dinner one night with friends; it turned out to be every bit as good as we had hoped.

Further down the road, we bought tripe and Clonakilty black pudding in Corrigan's. At 756 Holloway Road, we came to The Organic Health Food Store (020-7272 8788 or www.organichealth and found a treasure trove. Wonderful, unbleached, organic cotton bath sheets, robes and slippers, fine soaps ... but I was there to look at the food and wine. The wine selection is impressive, one of the best selections of organic wines in north London, with some real gems, including the luscious Chateau de Saussignac. Pulses, many types of flour, preserves, cakes and biscuits as well as fruit and vegetables are on offer, and the shop also makes local deliveries, for a charge, including organic fruit and vegetable boxes, and, to order, organic meat from Wales.

Almost across the road, at 621, is Super Persia, (020-7272 2665) an Iranian food shop, which is worth going to for its pastries alone, especially the deliciously crisp and richly flavoured saffron and cherry biscuits. Slivered pistachio nuts, honey, dried fruit, meant dessert was taken care of. Dinner was already beginning to compose itself; a casserole of tripe and beans or chick peas for a main course, perhaps?

Then we came to the small market just round the corner in Seven Sisters Road. And the fish stall. That had dinner written all over it. Razor clams, cod's roe, baby red mullet, octopus, squid and cuttlefish, as well as baby octopus, fishy treats that we hardly ever see outside Spain.

It was unlikely we would have room for the tripe that night. In with the fish went huge bunches of rocket, coriander and flat leaf parsley.

Dinner that night was simply an array of seafood, the red mullet deep-fried, the cod's roe poached, cooled and sliced and served with a garlicky mayonnaise, and the razor clams steamed in their own juices with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, coriander and a dash of fino. The same bottle accompanied the fish to perfection, Somerfield's own label fino, of which we were able to find a very fresh sample in their Camden Town store, bottled only a few months ago.

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The next night, I fried some rounds of cod roe and interspersed it with a few slices of fried Clonakilty black pudding, which made a good first course, then I served the tripe casserole, all the better for it having been made the day before, allowing it to mellow.

Chorizo, cornmeal and mussels

(serves eight as a first course,

four as a main course)

4kg/about 8lbs mussels, well-scrubbed and rinsed

Freshly ground black pepper

8 spring onions, trimmed, rinsed and finely sliced

1 tablespoon fresh coriander, chopped

1 chorizo, about 200g/7oz, skin removed, sliced or diced

3 or 4 pieces dried tomato, soaked and cut into narrow strips

200ml/7oz fino

4 slices pre-cooked polenta

Extra virgin olive oil

As the mussels cook so quickly, first sear the polenta on both sides, until hot all the way through. Discard any mussels that remain open after scrubbing and rinsing - they are dead - put the rest in a large lidded saucepan with the flavourings and liquid and cover with the lid. Cook the mussels until they open, shaking the pan for the heat to reach all the mussels. This should take about five minutes. Add the diced chorizo and stir into the mussels.

Put the polenta, diced, in large soup plates, with a splash or two of olive oil, and ladle the mussels and juice on top. Serve very hot.

Tripe cooked in saffron sauce

(serves four)

2 tablespoons duck fat or sunflower oil

2 onions, peeled and sliced

100g/4oz ham or bacon, diced

2 tablespoons flour

2 or 3 cloves

300ml/10fl oz dry white wine

300ml/10fl oz beef, veal or chicken stock

Good pinch of saffron

2kg/4lbs tripe

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped


Heat half the fat, and in it gently fry the onions and ham for five minutes or so. Sprinkle on the flour and stir in, cooking the flour until it just begins to turn colour. Add the cloves. Gradually add the liquid, keeping some back in which to soak the saffron. Stirring continuously, to avoid lumps, let the roux cook for five minutes and then let it cook further while you prepare the tripe.

Dry the tripe very thoroughly. Even so, you will be surprised at how much liquid is released when you fry it in the remaining fat. Discard as much of this as you can or cook it long enough to evaporate. Add the garlic, parsley and saffron liquid. Stir it into the saucepan of roux and cook together for 10 minutes or so.

Season to taste and transfer the tripe to a heated earthenware dish, or casserole to serve it. Steamed or boiled potatoes go well with this dish.

Saffron and honey compote of dried fruit and nuts

(serves eight, plus left-overs)

At this time of year, when there is little decent fruit about that hasn't travelled thousands of miles, here is the perfect stand-by. Leftovers are delicious for breakfast with some oatmeal stirred in and left to soak a while.

150ml/1/4pint boiling water

Generous pinch of saffron

1kg/2lbs dried fruit, such as apricots, prunes, figs, peaches, pears and apples

1.5litres/31/2 pints hot weak but fragrant tea, such as Darjeeling, jasmine or Earl Grey

1inch piece of ginger, peeled and shredded

12 allspice berries

50g/2oz each slivered pistachios, pine nuts, hazelnuts, flaked almonds, walnut pieces

Clear honey, to taste

Infuse the saffron in boiling water. Put the dried fruit in a lidded flame-proof casserole and pour on the hot tea. Add the ginger and allspice. Bring to the boil, cover and cook in a pre-heated oven at 170C, gas mark 3 for one and a half to two hours. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Toast the nuts in a heavy frying pan until just crisp and gold.

When the fruit is just warm, stir in the honey to taste and sprinkle the nuts on top. This is very good served with chilled thick yoghurt.

More of Frances Bissell's recipes can be found in her many books, available on-line or ordered at any good book store.

On May 9 at 7.30pm in the William Wells Atrium at the Royal Free Hospital, NW3, Frances will be talking to the NW London Group of the National Osteoporosis Society on delicious food for healthy bones, for which she will also be preparing a recipe hand-out.